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Tim, Faith bring music to New Orleans

It didn’t take much to send the already riled-up crowd over the edge.

“It’s good to be home,” Louisiana native Tim McGraw told the audience at a sold-out New Orleans Arena Wednesday night. A second round of frenzied screams and applause came after he added, “My name’s Tim McGraw and I’m a Louisiana boy.”

Though still suffering from a touch of bronchitis, McGraw took the stage with wife Faith Hill, resuming their summer concert tour in the Big Easy with all proceeds going to Hurricane Katrina victims via the couple’s newly formed Neighbor’s Keeper foundation.

The country power couple had canceled two tour appearances last week after McGraw, who was raised in Start, La., got sick. During the show, the crowd picked up the occasional verse or chorus whenever McGraw’s voice faltered. He had to pause between nearly every song to either suck on a lemon, take a sip of water or a quick squirt of throat spray before resuming his performance.

Hill opened the concert, singing her current hit “Like We Never Loved At All,” as she ascended from beneath a catwalk. McGraw joined her from the opposite end of the stage, to the crowd’s delight. Hill followed with “Mississippi Girl,” a song that proclaims a defiant pride in her rural roots. During the performance, she blew kisses to the crowd, including a young girl holding a poster that read, “Got Tim, Got Faith, Got Hope.”

“It’s awesome to be here,” Hill said. “Words cannot describe how it feels to be here tonight.”

Both McGraw and Hill, who is from Star, Miss., have criticized the government’s slow response to Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people along the Gulf Coast and flooded 80 percent of New Orleans. In interviews, Hill described the post-Katrina progress as “embarrassing” and “humiliating” to the country.

“It’s wrong,” she said. “It really gets us fired up. That’s our homeland.”

They said they wanted at least half the floor tickets at Wednesday’s concert in the 17,000-seat arena to go to first responders. Ticket prices were lowered to between $20 and $85. At an upcoming show in Atlanta, prices range from $47 to $87.

Hill later told the audience, “This show is for you, for this community and for our souls.”

Earlier Wednesday, the couple visited neighborhoods in the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish still seemingly untouched 10 months after the storm.

“We will not stop, we will not forget, we will not quit until we see our friends, our families and our neighbors returned to the lives that they once knew,” the couple said when they initially announced the show.

Between them, Hill and McGraw have sold more than 60 million albums and racked up six Grammy Awards, 17 American Music Awards, 22 Country Music Association Awards, 16 Academy of Country Music Awards and more than 35 No. 1 singles.